Turkey, Europe

Turkey will not take refugees already on Greek islands

Ankara's EU minister says migrants on Greek islands must be cleared before fresh arrivals are readmitted to Turkey

Feyza Süsal   | 10.03.2016
Turkey will not take refugees already on Greek islands Turkish EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Volkan Bozkir

Ankara

ANKARA

Turkey will not readmit refugees who have already reached Greek islands under a deal agreed with the EU earlier this week, EU Minister Volkan Bozkir said Thursday.

“Turkey's readmission proposal to the EU will not apply to the existing refugees on Greek islands but to those who will come starting from a certain date after their evacuation,” he told Anadolu Agency’s Editors’ Desk.

Bozkir’s remarks came after EU leaders discussed a wide range of proposals from Turkey to solve the refugee crisis, including the return of all irregular migrants, sharing the burden of hosting Syrian refugees, introducing visa-free travel for Turkish nationals and accelerating Turkey’s EU accession process.

The minister, who also serves as Turkey’s chief negotiator on EU affairs, said the number of returnees would run into “maybe tens of thousands of refugees” if the readmission plan with EU is enacted.

The Greek islands that lie just off the coast of Turkey and which have been the target of most refugees heading to the EU would have to be cleared of irregular migrants before Turkey began to accept the return of fresh arrivals to Greece, Bozkir said.

“But in return for each readmitted refugee, one refugee from camps in Turkey will safely reach the EU as the country to host him/her legally will already have been determined,” he added.

Ankara would not accept Europe picking and choosing skilled workers when selecting refugees but rather the process would be carried out according to UN methods, Bozkir said.

Under Turkey’s proposal to the EU, seen by Anadolu Agency, the EU will “share the burden” of caring for Syrian refugees fleeing their country’s five-year civil war by resettling a Syrian for every individual “readmitted by Turkey from the Greek islands”.

The document says Ankara will “readmit expeditiously all irregular migrants crossing into the Greek islands from Turkey without prejudice to Turkey’s current commitments under international law”.

It adds that the readmission will be for a “temporary period and only for humanitarian purposes”.

For its part, the EU is calling on Turkey to crack down on people smugglers and stem the flow of refugees coming into Europe via Greece.

Last year, more than 850,000 refugees arrived in Greece from Turkey by sea, according to the International Organization for Migration. So far this year, nearly 132,000 have arrived by the same route.

Despite insisting on the relaxation of visa regulations for Turkish nationals wanting to travel to the EU, Bozkir indicated the deal would not be reciprocal.

“Even after visas [for Turks] are all abolished and become a visa with work permit, we might [still] need to require visas from EU countries’ citizens because the main flow will not be from Turkey into Europe but from Europe to Turkey,” he told the meeting of senior Anadolu Agency editors.

Another key proposal from Turkey at Monday’s meeting between Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and EU heads was for the EU to pay Turkey a further 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to cover the care of refugees. The union had previously agreed an earlier 3 billion euros for the same purpose.

Turkey currently hosts nearly 3 million refugees, most of them Syrian.

Turning to questions about the distribution and monitoring of the payments, Bozkir said the money could be supervised by the EU representative office in Turkey or the World Bank. “I don’t think we will have problems,” the minister said.

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